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‘Return’ of emotions to diplomacy and international relations

Published on 27 December 2010
Updated on 19 March 2024

Emotions have been left out of social theories for the last 40 years. They had no part to play in attempts to make scientific disciplines out of economics, sociology, and international relations. Emotions cannot be quantified and fit into theories that should be verified. Abandoning real people – who are inevitable emotional – the academics went into other direction trying to explain the world through grand theories, very often far from reality. Phd theses were written, Nobel prizes won, thousands of conferences organised…. but they could not predict any of the major developments in modern society, including the end of the Cold War and the financial crisis. They could not survive the test of real life. Big social theories are crumbling in front of us and society is trying to find some ways to explain reality and our increasing number of problems.

In this context emotions are back. They came in quietly through the back door, for example, the door of behavioural economics. One does not need a PhD to ‘discover’ that panic in the markets can lead into economic catastrophe. Emotions shape societies and international relations. I experienced it by living abroad and occasionally going back home to Belgrade. The Balkans is useful for reflections on the importance of emotions because it is rarely in emotional sync with the rest of world. During the gloomy era of the Cold War, Yugoslavia has its prosperous time. People had the best of the both systems (capitalist and socialist). They were free to travel and, with a few rather minor limitations, free to express themselves. There was a positive mood in the Balkans. In the 1990s, while the whole world moved into a more prosperous and happier phase, the Balkans spiraled into wars and misery. The emotional pendulum shifted to the other extreme. A few days ago I came from the Balkans. I noticed this emotional ‘unsync’ again. At a time when many people are skeptical about the European Union, the EU is becoming popular in the Balkans; not just for ‘signing checks’, but also because the EU offers people hope that there could be some justice, especially when it comes to the kleptocratic elites of most of the Balkan states. The former prime minister of Croatia is being investigated following pressure from the EU. The EU is breathing down the necks of Serbian politicians in order to arrest Mladic. Marti’s report has put the spotlight on the criminal past of the Kosovo politicians. Who knows? The Balkans may get out from under the predominantly pessimistic mood in Europe. It can be a driving force and it may contribute to Europe’s recovery.

Back to emotions….. Have a look at the article “Redistribution of Hope” in the Christmas issue of The Economist. It compares the gloomy mood in Europe and the optimistic one in Asia. The article quotes the Pew Research Centre: ‘Some 87% of Chinese, 50% of Brazilians and 45% of Indians think their country is going in the right direction, whereas 31% of Britons, 30% of Americans and 26% of the French do.’

If you have more time during holidays, read the book “Geopolitics of Emotions“.

In any case make sure that you will be in a good mood during the festive season!

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